Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More submissions

After kvetching about the chapbook, and wondering where to send it, I must admit that I have not yet received an answer from the Iyengar's publishing arm. I sent a query letter to them, and told them that my teacher, Denise, is there in Pune right now, with a copy of the chapbook in her possession. Although the illustrator has not responded to my note yet or sent me a drawing or given up or done anything at all, at least the manuscript is out there.
I also got a note in the listserve today about a chapbook contest that was especially interested in hybrid projects, things that didn't fit elsewhere. One of the collections they published was a cardgame/book of poems. I love that idea. It is something I would do. While I found the sample a bit too much reminiscent of fridge poetry, it's a fine idea. I entered the contest, sending the temporary photographs as place holders to give the house an idea what I am talking about. I didn't want to wait till I have drawings. God knows when that will be!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sick of Waiting

I am tired of waiting for the illustrator to do a yoga drawing. Tired of waiting for just the right chapbook contest to send the collection to. I started sending queries to yoga book publishers. I already got two not interested replies. One wished me luck finding a publisher. The other told me to try poetry book publishers instead. That's the problem with a hybrid; it doesn't belong anywhere. I guess you could say the same of most things I do.
Any suggestions???

Monday, June 28, 2010

Putting on the breaks

Like a heavy piece of machinery, the semester is beginning the process of coming to a halt. Just as a subway train or locomotive takes some time to stop, so does this ungainly beast.

We have two more days to discuss The Metamorphosis and the secondary essay they must use to write their essay. It is not enough, not even for the best students, but would have been had they read the text last week, while they were still writing and preparing to turn in paper 2. But all but about 2 of them did not do that. So now we are left with insufficient time to do the remaining work.
I have given a lot of homework tonight and tomorrow, trying to prepare them to write the essay in class on Thursday, but there were several absences, people who had the ability to do it, and some who were there physically, were obviously not there mentally. I had lots of fiddling with phones, sleeping, dubious looks coming from the class. I pressed forward anyway. Like the train, I have a schedule to keep.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Ocean

Today I saw Disney's documentary The Ocean at the dollar movie theater. The film was made by the same French documentarians who made the gorgeous film Winged Migrations some years back and also made March of the Penguins, both impressive feats of photography and film-making.
Much of this film offered the same sort of astounding images as those earlier films. I was especially impressed by the footage of the blue whale. I have never before seen an actual blue whale, only drawings of these extremely rare and reclusive creatures, which nonetheless, as the narrator said, take up an entire city block. Hard to hide when you're that big, I would imagine!
I had heard on reviews that there was not enough narration, information about what we were looking at. I didn't really find that to be the case. Most of the time I knew what I was looking at, but Pierce Brosnan, the narrator, did provide information most of the time about this anyway.
It was only at the end of the film when the piece seemed to lose direction and repeat itself, getting preachy and then closing with a horrible piece of music that completely clashed with the sublimity of the previous images in the film. It was as though the film were taken away from the director and patched together at the end. Perhaps the film-makers were spending too much for Disney to stomach or taking the film in an unwelcome direction. One never knows what sorts of investments companies like Disney might have that would be sore spots they wanted to cover up. Perhaps that's what happened. In any case, at the dollar movie, the film was well worth seeing, for the rest of its amazing footage of ocean creatures.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Now We're Cooking

I just came back from a really fun morning of cooking at Xanh Bistro. That's the place where Richard and I had our anniversary dinner at the end of May. I wrote a review of it for this blog a month or so back.
When we were there, I noticed that the owner, Haley Nguyen, gave cooking lessons, so I decided to tell my friend Liz about them, and today we went to our first (probably not our last) one, in which we prepared a menu of street foods, including ground chicken and vermicelli meatballs in peanut sauce, banh mi sandwiches with pickled vegetables we made ourselves, steamed rice rolls with ground chicken and wood ear mushroom filling, and a fruit dessert made from fresh assorted fruit cut up and put into a young coconut.
There were many people, over 20, packed into the small restaurant, and only 6 burners spread out over two tables, so I wondered at first how anyone would manage to get hands on experience cooking this meal, but it turned out that every person had a turn to fix the dishes.
Cooking with other people is always fun. For one thing, any chopping, mixing, cutting, and (horrors!) cleaning up is always light work with so many to help, and the social side of cooking and eating comes to the fore, with people chatting and laughing, introducing themselves, tasting, and debating on what is missing in the sauce or whether the mixture needs more cooking, more stirring.
It has been a long time since I spent any real time cooking, though the activity of cooking and eating and reading food writing (writing it too) has always been dear to my heart. I love to wander in ethnic grocery stores and look at, taste, and try new ingredients, though sometimes I admit that they sit on my shelves forever because I have no idea what to do with them. And cooking is a way for me to relax, not a chore, at least when I am cooking new and interesting things. So this lesson is sure to bring me pleasure in the future when I try the dishes out for myself, and vary them. I can see trying lots of different kinds of sandwiches, for example, from vegetarian, to fish, and perhaps very thinly sliced lamb, though I don't think lamb is a meat Vietnamese eat much.
Despite the large number of people, the lessons went smoothly. Haley came around and helped each group fix mistakes,add more ingredients, or plate the food. She has boundless energy, and explains everything very clearly.
When it came time to eat, we found each dish wonderful, full of exciting flavors, and even beautiful (for the most part) to look at. This is a meal I plan to make again, many times.
I recommend this restaurant and Haley's cooking lessons. Visit the restaurant online at for the latest information about these cooking lessons or to see a menu.

Friday, June 25, 2010


I was grading papers and while at work on the paper a particularly brown-nosing girl in the class had written, I came across a page torn out of a puzzle book that she was apparently working on while in my class sometime, pretending to take notes. She had written in the margins of the puzzle quite clearly. "This class is boring. I am bored in English class." Hello. This is the same student who asks me to spend extra time with her, going over her drafts and explaining what she can do to improve them, which she then does not do.
I gracefully tucked the puzzle back into her folder on the top. Was that mean? Maybe. But now she will know I got the message.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Paper day

When papers are due in a comp class, people often turn up late, rattled, and often are unprepared for the discussion on the next work we are discussing. Today was no different. The students were supposed to have read The Metamorphosis by today. I broke it into two parts, since it is so short, and asked for half yesterday and half today. Only two students had done the reading, so discussion was not possible. So I asked the students to get into their groups and discuss the study questions, going through the book to try to find the answers. The process was somewhat hampered by the fact that the page numbers came from a different edition than the one I was using this semester. Norton critical editions used to publish the book with some very good critical essays, but they are no longer doing that, so I chose a different edition, but didn't have time to change the page numbers on the study questions or sample passage handouts I had made. But some people had used copies of the Norton, so they were able to find the pages and discuss them in groups.
The discussion among the groups turned out to be very valuable, and after a while, we all got back together and talked about what they had found out. On Monday, they should be ready to discuss the book with some more insight than they would have had without this experience.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I got back all those drafts to the students today, but tomorrow afternoon, I get the final papers. And I started teaching The Metamorphosis in earnest. Of course, I have taught it so many times, that doesn't really take a lot of preparation, and that's a relief after teaching two works I hadn't done before. There are lots of things in my files--study questions, lessons, sample analysis of quotations, etc. that I can use in class. That's good because I'm fresh out of energy.
My yoga teacher took me aside in class yesterday morning and told me that she had taken care of her dad for 7 years before losing him, and when he went, she was the most exhausted she had ever been in her life. She advised me not to take on any new responsibilities for a while, and to let myself off the hook about small tasks like cooking dinner, etc.
I'm way ahead of her, but it is a relief to have someone else tell me this, to give permission to just let go of things for a while.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

District 9 drafts

Today I am beseiged with drafts about the film District 9. The students are struggling not to make the papers merely summaries of the plot, and some, several not the ones I would have expected, have come up with inventive and interesting interpretations of the camera movement and techniques of the film to help argue their claims.
However, some of the better students, more traditional in their training and thinking, are having trouble getting their minds around this film, which appeals more to the guy mentality of some of the weaker students, with its violence and action. That is often the way it is with film papers. Some people who haven't done particularly well in the rest of the class, writing about literature, suddenly begin to shine. I like to do that, and the students for the most part have responded by really liking the film and the whole idea of the assignment.
Today there was a bit of an incident in the class around the issue of a weak peer review group, composed mostly of the dregs of the class, people who don't do the work.
There is one very responsible student in the group, and I wanted him to remain there, anchoring a new, improved group. But the rest of the students refused to budge, since they liked their groups and found them helpful. I should have insisted, but I backed down, upsetting the responsible student, who thought I was discriminating against him because of his race, dooming him to remain with the irresponsible students. I was of course horrified when he told me that, and apologized, but it is a problem I don't particularly know how to solve. These sorts of groups do crop up. How have those of you who teach addressed this issue?

Good to know

Recently, when I was griping about the fact that I could not find a place to read more than one poem at a time in public, Marly asked whether I was sending things out to the places on the writer's listserve she told me about. I told her yes, that I do that, every once in a while, usually sending individual poems to contests or calls to submission.
A week or two ago, I responded to one of these that wanted visiting readers for a writer's conference at DePaul University. It's a long way to go to do a reading, but I figured that if I won the contest, they'd pay my way, and it would be fun. So I entered. The contest invited people to send poems, even if they had been accepted for publication, so I sent "The World is a Sound," the music poem I put up here a while back.
I didn't win the contest, but the person who wrote to me said that it was close. The poem was his personal favorite, and he argued hard, but ultimately lost. He invited me to come, which I cannot do, but I thanked him and told him not to give up hope. In a year or so, maybe there will be a book, and he or someone there can invite me to the campus as a reader and pay my way out.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Thinking about dad and mom

I keep dreaming I have gerbils down the basement that I have forgotten to feed, and fear going down there, where I think I'll find them mummified, starved. Of course, the fact that my mom DID starve herself is probably at least partially related to that, the feeling that I have of being responsible in part for it, though there was little I could do, really, short of forcing her to eat, putting a tube down her throat. How awful that would have been... probably far more traumatic for all involved.
But I keep thinking I have to go to the house, to call them, to look after them. Today, when I gave up dad's worms to their adoptive mom, I let go another vestige of him. Of course, I had no use for the worms, not being a gardener. They went to a better place.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Giving Shadow a Bath

My cats have very sensitive stomachs. Whistler is allergic to eggs and chicken, and Shadow is also sensitive to those things, though a bit of fresh broiled chicken doesn't put her stomach into a situation as it does Whistler's. I mostly have it figured out by now what they can eat and what they can't. They dine on premium, limited ingredient diets... salmon and sweet potato dry food in the morning and various canned foods (rabbit or venison or the like, with various starches and vegetables). But I tried a salmon and green pea limited diet food. For a change, Whistler was fine. But Shadow had some tummy trouble. In fact, it was pretty terrible trouble, which necessitated an instantaneous bath.
Cats don't like baths, as you can imagine, and unlike the average dog, they will let you know it pretty strenuously, turning into wildcats when you try to coax them into the bathtub to dip them into the tepid tub for a shampoo. Suddenly, a wisp of tail disappears under the couch or the bed or behind the computer, and you are caught trying to fish out the cat with one hand while your head remains squeezed like a lemon in a juicer under the rim of the sofa. Unadvisable. Teeth and claws are pretty powerful weapons that take care of any unfortunate creature trying to catch a cat in that way.
But my son was here today, letting Richard perform his Father's Day ritual of making bacon and eggs for the two of them. When asked what he wanted for Father's Day, that was the answer, that and the two of them watching the golf tournament on t.v.. So we obliged him, but Jeremy took out time to develop a strategy for trapping Shadow and plonking her into the by now cold bath.
While Richard blew hard into a flute, startling the cat, I revved up my new shredder, and Jeremy scooped her up as she fled, panicked, directly into his arms. We had removed the litter box from the bathroom so she wouldn't roll herself in the box while wet and come out looking like a battered catfish. And once we got her into the still a bit warm water, and massaged her with the shampoo, she didn't seem to mind it at all. In fact, she seemed relieved to get rid of the gunk that had gotten stuck in her long coat, and I had to spray the tub with bleach afterwords to dispose of it.
After a brisk toweling, she repaired to the bedroom to groom her fur dry and smooth, as though nothing had ever happened.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fatherless Father's Day

Tomorrow is father's day, and for the first time, I can't call dad up, take him out, or send him a card. I bought a card. It is sitting here; I guess I'll save it for next year to give to R or to his dad.


I'll have to get a new picture to put up in the header. If I could find the cable for the camera, I'd get Richard or Jeremy to take one, or I thought about taking Beth up on the request that I put the picture of me, my parents, and my cousin back up. Perhaps I'll do that tomorrow.
I had a rocky morning because I suddenly remembered that I didn't take my mother's wedding ring when she died. I regret that so much, but there is nothing I can do now. I regret that we lost my grandmother's rings too in the old house, buried somewhere by mom. And they were diamonds. Oh well.
But mostly I was thinking about her, about her face and her soft, small hands, wearing those gold rings with Hebrew inscriptions on them. I never saw her hands without those rings.
In all the shock and the rush to get things out of the board and care and to do the burials, I just didn't have time to feel a lot, and now it is catching up with me a bit.
I went to yoga, and that was good, though. And I will go tomorrow too.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Giving it another try

This evening, after yoga class in Laguna, I invited R and J to come to dinner with me in Laguna at the Mexican joint in the shopping center where my yoga class was. They met me right on time, in fact went to catch me at yoga, but I was too fast for them.
Jeremy was wonderful last night, staying with me when I was feeling fretful and upset, and I had a wonderful night sleep after that. But today we were back to our same old dynamic, with him asking me questions, which I then tried to answer, but apparently not in ways that pleased him. He was back to criticizing the smallest things I did. I just didn't have the strength to deal with it right now, despite a wonderful yoga interlude. I wish I could head some of that stuff off. Ignoring it is the best I can do, which then is seen as not hearing him. Oh well.


After I finished the yoga series, in a great burst of optimism, I wrote to Mark Axelrod at Chapman University and sent him some, asking for a reading. I knew they had reading series--more than one, actually. So I thought maybe I could do half a reading at least. I am tired of going to open mics and doing one poem or maybe two if I am lucky. I want to spread out and make an impression, take things for a spin.
Axelrod liked the poems a lot, and told me back then to wait till summer and email the person who runs the reading series there. I did, but it seems that people without published books need not apply. She told me to try open mics.
I wanted to scream. But what is the use. I politely told her I would finish my book then get back to her. Of course I know that even once it is finished, getting a publisher is not a simple task.

New Shredder!

I opened the enormous, heavy box with the gigantic new shredder in it and somehow dragged it over to an outlet. At first, nothing happened. I played with it a while, read the directions again, and then, suddenly, I spied a little button on the side that had not been turned on, and pushed it.
The shredder erupted in a great growl, not like the little chihuahua of a shredder that I have now, with its shrill staccato barking, a half-hearted and labored effort to reduce the stuff from my files to nothing but tiny julienned squares that get buried in the carpet and float in the air like so much confetti. This thing took it all on, and hardly broke a sweat. Though I have been warned to limit myself to 5 minute shredding-fests, I think this will be sufficient, since in that time, it eliminated an entire basketful (and a large basket at that). Not that I don't have much more to do, but I feel quite a bit lighter at heart to see things disappear from the vicinity of the tiny computer area trash bin, swallowed up in the kitchen trashcan, where I need not worry about it any more.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


The semester is converging on me, feeling as though I have my head caught in a vise. If there is a friend out there who can help me take care of a few mundane tasks, such as returning overdue books to UCI library, I would so much appreciate it.
There are papers and study questions calling my name at the moment, and I have to make up a sample thesis and plan about District 9. Oh and I guess I ought to think about eating.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Used Up Blog Titles

I was going to call this "Another Day," but I've used that before, so I can't. Today I started talking about District 9. I had some interesting comparisons of that text with our previous one, Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and that amused them for a while, but getting into a new text, especially a film, can be difficult at times, especially when the film is a borderline action flick. But all the same, there are interesting techniques in the film and some intriguing themes that go well with the previous text and the next one, The Metamorphosis (Kafka).
I am about half-way through grading the paper set, and I promised to give it back tomorrow. I guess I better get going on that.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Watching the movie

The students tittered and gasped a lot during the movie, a sign that it might have shocked them. They will need to watch it again before they will really be able to talk about it. Some will be reluctant to do that.

First Paper

The first paper of the summer session comes in today. I already have a student requesting an extension. I gave him an extra day. I really can't do much more than that because the next paper will be so squeezed as it is; they have a little more than a week to do it, and it won't be easy. I was working on a sample paragraph on a scene of District 9, the topic of our next paper, and found it difficult to write. For these students, many of them guys, the video game similarities will be all they see. I have had students write about film before in the summer session, but always these have been complex masterpieces, such as The Third Man and Vertigo, that offer lots of topics for discussion. While District 9 is innovative and provocative, it is nowhere as artistically accomplished or complex as these other films. In my experience, that will make it harder to focus on anything but the plot, which will not be sufficient. As well as it fits the rest of the course, it will not be easy to teach in this limited time.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

More on Mom

I realize that the piece I wrote for mom left out a whole side of her, the darker side, her mental illness. For as long as I can remember, mom was afraid. Though she had been so very fearless, taking on two stints in different Air forces, pioneering in early Israel (a task not for sissies), and riding the wild bronco that was my father, she was afraid of down escalators, animals, people of races different from her own, and many other things. She would cut out articles from the paper and send them to me when they justified her fears. She used to swoon in the street, subject to inner ear dizziness, sitting on the end of the aisle when we went to the movies together as a family so she would have room to escape if she felt claustrophobic. She was a hoarder, as I have told you, and had such severe anxiety that it makes my own look minor. Thus, she was a contradictory person, though she was not bipolar as my dad was. I knew dementia had claimed her mind when she stopped begging to leave that terrible house and neighborhood and started saying she could not understand why I was trying to get her to leave her home. For at least 2 years, she was angry at me for "stealing" everything she owned to bring her out here. This was NOT home, or anywhere she wanted to be. She didn't like living with foreigners, her caregivers, but at the end it became home, and those foreigners her loving friends.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What do Worms Eat?

We took the worm farm to our place, planning to transport it to a friend's house when she is ready to take it. She is a gardener, and can therefore use the compost the worms prepare and their waste matter to fertilize her plants. But she hasn't answered the phone; I fear she is out of town, and am not really sure how to take care of the worms while we are waiting for her to come back. I took the worm book my father used to learn how to care for them, but we don't have the little food processor he used to grind garbage up for their meals. I will have to use a regular food processor to grind potato skins, eggshells, and whatever else comes up. Not everything is appropriate for the worms; I know this much. They like watermelon rinds, but not citrus. Coffee grinds are good, but no one around here drinks coffee (except instant). Perhaps tea bags will work, if we chop them up, but it will be herbal tea, and some of that may be citrus. He told me a little citrus was okay. We don't have as much garbage as the house did. They had many more people after all than we do, with just the two of us.
I am afraid I will kill my dad's precious worms. I know he worried about leaving them.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again

My mother's funeral was today. This morning at 9, when the Omega Society office in Santa Ana opened, we went to pick up her cremated remains to deliver them to the cemetery for her 2 PM funeral. When we got there, they did not yet have the remains. The man at the desk quipped that my mother was "fashionably late." That gave me a bit of a start; I had to restrain myself to keep from having a fit. The people in the office told us to go off and have coffee and come back in half an hour, so we did, and when we got back, they handed us the remains, neatly packaged in a white tote bag, dense and very very heavy. I guess I never expect the dust from a person's body to weigh nearly as much as that person, but it did. Sanitized as it was though, the plastic package did not feel like a person, though I knew where its contents came from.
Then we headed off to the board and care to pack as much as we could into the car. The caregiver, Susie, had thoughtfully packed everything up already in suitcases, tote bags, plastic garbage bags, and plastic storage boxes. All we needed to do was put them into the car. Another car load still awaits us, and Richard will pick it up tomorrow. It will have to sit in the empty room for another day before I am ready to sort it and decide what needs to go to a consignment store, what to a Goodwill, what to the trash, and what I will keep and treasure. I do not relish that job of sorting.
The funeral itself went off well, though the choir was not as complete as last time, and we were ill prepared to sing, even though we sang the same song as last time. I delivered my eulogy for mom, but Richard was talked out. We shoveled our dirt onto the small "coffin" containing the remains and went off to a restaurant for lunch.
Naturally, that did not go as smoothly as one would have hoped. Forgetting it was Friday afternoon, I first thought about going to the Kosher deli, nearby, but it was going to be closing soon for Shabbat. So I had a backup plan--Inka Mama, a Peruvian restaurant in Lake Forest. But when we drove over to it, there was a huge accident and the entire freeway was closed off. We couldn't get to the restaurant.
The others from the funeral party did make it, but they called and told me the restaurant was closed from 3-5. It was about 3 at that time, so I suggested a few other places. We finally chose another. but it took perhaps 30 minutes for everyone to arrive.
Now I feel drained. It has been almost a week and a half since this whole thing began. My dad had his thrombosis, if that's what it was, in the late afternoon on Memorial Day. He died on Weds. morning. I made the funeral arrangements that day. He was buried on Sunday, and my mother died that morning. What a lot can happen in a short time.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Yesterday in class, the first draft was due, a day when many students simply don't show up. But everyone who has been coming regularly was there--and then some. They gave me a card signed by all of them, with lovely personal notes saying how impressed they are by me and how I am a role model for them and how much they appreciated me returning to work after my parents' death. So if I ever feel as though I am throwing pearls before the proverbial swine, I will remember that. They listen so closely, and they try so hard, with a few exceptions.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mom's Eulogy

My mother, Lydia Kellman, was born in Capetown South Africa, the 2nd of 5 siblings—4 girls and a boy—in the shadow of Table Mountain, with its white covering of cloud, called the Tablecloth. She and her siblings played on the pristine beaches, where the waters of 2 oceans came together in streams of two different shades, two temperatures. She was happy and fortunate, unafraid to face challenges.
As a young woman, she joined the South African Air force, learning the skill of aerial photography and traveling far from home. On a quest for a technology in Europe that might help restore a modicum of her mother’s failed hearing, she sailed the perilous wartime oceans with her parents on a Greek ship that served her kosher mother rabbit, which she assured her mother was chicken, lest she starve.
Later, she joined her sisters in traveling to Israel to work on a new kibbutz, and joined the Israeli Air force, again as an aerial photographer. This life lived among others suited her. She enjoyed their company, thriving in the social whirl of parties and dances, and played as hard as she worked.
How she came together with the serious and troubled young man from Philadelphia isn’t hard to imagine. In his manic phase, my father, who resembled a pint-size Cary Grant during those years, was funny and charming, a gifted mime and actor. Maybe it took a while before she saw the other Mish, the angry and morbid one.
The two married and traveled to England, where he was stationed, walking miles in the Lake Country, where they stayed at youth hostels nestled in the green hills. They sailed to France, innocent of all French, but managing somehow to communicate their needs. My mother would often tell the story of how she and my father pantomimed their desire for hot water, until the owner of the pension where they were staying understood.
This life hardly prepared her for Philadelphia, where she had to face my grandmother, a depressed and difficult woman who scorned this flighty young woman from South Africa. The Kellmans were as different a family from the proud and sophisticated Horvitches as anyone could imagine, and my mother, far from home in a new land, was treated poorly by her new family.
America did not turn out to be for her the golden land my father had promised. She missed her family, her beautiful South Africa, and the happy life of luxury she was used to living. When I was growing up, she instilled in me a sense of otherness, cautioning me against these Americans, with their barbarous manners and cruel behavior toward anyone who did not match the common mold. When I was teased at school, she filled my head with bright visions of other worlds beyond the borders of Philadelphia and the U.S., where she hoped I would someday travel.
Life was hard in Philadelphia not only because of the family and the neighbors, but because she had to struggle financially, to do without the servants she was used to, to manage my father’s sometimes abusive behavior. It is a wonder to me that she did not simply pack up and go back to South Africa, as her sister Edna urged her to do.
Instead, she busied herself, trying to work briefly as a secretary, typing up plays for an off-Broadway company. She would return on the Frankford Elevated train, humming the songs from the latest shows. She made friends, and served as a den mother for the girl scouts, taking me along on their camping trips. It was a blow to her when I was expelled from the Brownies for hiding under the bed in the boring store where we had gone for a field trip.
I was a bit of a disappointment to her, being nothing like the butterfly of a young girl she had wished for. She tried dressing me in gay and flirtatious colors, but this didn’t help the fact that I was serious and observant, given to study and reading, a collector of insects known as Bug Lady to the neighborhood children. She did what she could with me, but I could see that I did not match the vision she had for her daughter. I was too much a Kellman, an American, more like my father in many ways than like her.
Yet despite this, I am grateful to her for teaching me a respect for language. A purveyor of correct usage, she mercilessly corrected me until my syntax sparkled, purged of infelicities and slang. Thus, she is as responsible for me being a writer as my father was, with his story-telling and weekly gifts of books. It was she in early years who nurtured a respect for language.
People marveled to the last when they saw us together, finding us to be nearly identical in appearance. I never saw it. But I admit that we had the same slender frame, the same dark eyes, even the same way of moving.
Despite her frustrations, my mother adored my father and me. She sent me large care packages when I went away to college and later married and moved to California. She spoke to me on the phone, until her hearing, like her mother’s, grew too bad to continue these talks and her mind gave out. And to the end, she could barely stand to be in a different room from my father, who alternately coddled and mistreated her.
She was happy for me being in California, which so resembled her native South Africa. Every June, they would visit, just so she could walk the streets purpled with jacarandas, reminding her of the broad avenues of home.
At the last, I am glad I was able to bring her out here, to fill her life with the kind of beauty and luxury she had grown up with, though it was admittedly too late for her to truly appreciate it. In the depths of dementia, when all else fell away, this had become “home” for her, and thus one can say that she came to port at that elusive place she so longed for.


Last night I went to Torah group, despite the fact that I had not been able to read the portion scheduled for discussion. It was in fact an interesting, provocative portion of Deuteronomy, that part of the Torah where Moses revisits the rest of the books, putting his own spin on the long trip through the wilderness, and setting the pattern for what would be after his death.
As usual, the rules unfolded in this portion range from the sensible and humane to the sensationally cruel. Although the famous "eye for an eye" proclaimed the law of revenge, it was couched in such a way that it was in actuality seldom carried out. There had to be two eyewitnesses to the crime, and they had to be willing to take up the first stone to punish the guilty party. Few would probably speak up under these circumstances. People who insisted upon worshiping other gods or natural forces such as the sun or moon would not be tolerated, but instead (again) stoned to death. And while vanquished peoples would not be slaughtered if they surrendered to the Israelites, this rule did not hold for the nearby peoples, the Canaanites, who must be eradicated to the last goat because of the threat their pagan ways of worship represented.
While one can see the rule of law taking shape in these books, the basis for civilization as we know it, unfortunately, the murderous behavior so prevalent today among nations is there as well. Interestingly, one person in the group who took up study of the Torah hoping to gain an understanding of God and the faith she had been born into now says that she has determined that God to be a fable, and human beings to be mostly a lost cause, with islands of community and good feeling like our synagogue being all we can cling to.
With recent events in my personal life, I cannot agree. But I understand the feeling.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Another Day

Today's class went very smoothly. The students are all so receptive. I don't think I have had a class in which everyone listened this well in a long time (well, almost everyone--there is one guy who sleeps consistently, and I called him on it today). What I had to say branched out in all directions because they know virtually nothing, for the most part, about writing or reading critically (with a few exceptions). So we talked about sentences, reasoning, paragraphing, using quotations, constructing an argument, etc. I know that everything I say is new because of the look most of them have on their faces as they take notes.
This is not to say that the work is top notch. With a few exceptions, it isn't. But I think that perhaps we will have some breakthroughs if they work at it. The draft is due tomorrow, and I expect some pretty hard reading. I delayed it two days from the original plan because they were just not ready to proceed when I returned yesterday. They didn't understand the book at all. One has to teach her own class. There just isn't anyone else who can do it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Teaching Soothes the Heart

Today I went back to my class. I didn't know how I would fare because I sort of felt as though I had swallowed a watermelon when I walked into class this afternoon, but as soon as I started talking, it all was suddenly okay, and I was just doing what I do, as I always do it. Everything else just sort of fell away.
The students' theses and plans were due today, but I knew by looking at their homework leading up to the thesis that they were not at all ready to do this. The draft was supposed to come in tomorrow, but I didn't feel confident that they understood the book or the paper topics well enough to write a paper I would be happy with, so I backed up and retaught the homework skills from last week and went over the paper topics again, and then looked at my sample theses and plans with them.
After class, I sat down and talked to several students in the reading center (the writing center was already closed). We spent a long time discussing the book, thesis statements, and the paper topics, and then talked about my parents for a while. I came home at 4:30, opened the mailbox, and found in it my mother's checkbooks, which will never be used now. I will have to close out the account and decide how to keep the money separate from the rest of the money in my name.

The Other Funeral

We will bury mom's remains on Friday at 2 PM at the same cemetary and plot where dad is buried. You are welcome to come. I would love to see you there. However, we will not have a reception this time. After the funeral, if people would like, we can all drive over to the kosher deli on Moulton (Kosher Byte) and eat something. My parents loved that place.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Little Help From My Friends

The funeral for my dad turned out to be a service and celebration for my mom as well. It couldn't have turned out nicer. The choir, on my request, sang "Eli Eli," a poem by Hannah Senezes, a victim of the Holocaust, who after escaping Hungary in the war, went back with the resistance to fight the Nazis and was caught. She died in the concentration camps. Even I chimed in. Then the rabbi did a very nice service, some of which he personalized to refer to my father and my mother. I delivered my eulogy, and Richard did a lovely extemporaneous remembrance of my father AND my mother too. He was going to play "Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer" on his harmonica, but he decided not to. Then we went to the board and care and did a lovely reception with tons of wonderful food, mostly the things I shopped for yesterday, which were a hit and were completely eaten.
I called the cemetary and asked them to cremate my mom so we could bury her ashes on Friday. The rabbi said he would come and do a service on Friday afternoon. We just have to talk to the mortuary and the cemetary and see if they can swing it. I hope so.
Tomorrow begins a whole different life, without my parents. I will go back to school and teach my class, and I will do what I want to do when I am not working. What a change. I don't think I'll know how to handle it to have my life back.

The other shoe

I just had a call from Susie, the caregiver. My mother is gone now. I am going to the house to take care of business. I wish she could be buried with my father. However, because of bureaucracy, she cannot. I don't know what I will do next.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Moving Along

Today, with the help from good friends, I bought the food for tomorrow's funeral reception. The choir at synagogue gave me a couple of hundred dollars to pay for it. That is lucky, since I used most of that. There will be a nice spread, and the service also seems to have shaped up nicely as well.
I managed to grade all of the papers, and though I have not planned my classes for the week, at least that is done. It gives me hope that perhaps I can continue after all, even if it will be very very difficult given my mother's state. I also talked to an old friend from school (and the synagogue) who had almost the same experience taking care of her elderly parents' death. She said it was awful, but she made it through, and so would I. That was heartening.

My wonderful community

All of you are wonderful, the best sort of friends. And all the people at synagogue have been unbelievable too, especially the choir. They collected hundreds of dollars for me to pay for the spread at the reception. Today sometime I will go shopping and get the food. I just need to have places to stash it since there is no room in our fridge or the board and care fridge. I have a few offers, and I just need to decide.
I won't be going to yoga though. I will continue grading papers and planning the class for whomever may take over.

Friday, June 4, 2010

What to Do?

I went to visit my mother today and found her looking as though she is about to die as well. She is completely unresponsive, and no longer accepts any food at all. The visiting doctor that I contracted to see her says she has perhaps a week to live if she continues not eating, and there is no sign she is able to eat at this point.
I don't know what to do. I must go back to work on Monday. Meanwhile, I have a huge big folder of papers to grade from this week's homework, and classes to plan for next week.
This seems an impossible task to me. The next 24 hours are hard enough, with tons of papers to fill out, requiring financial information that I have so much difficulty providing because my problems with math and my lack of organization. Meanwhile, the telephone company did NOT switch off the phone as ordered, and has at least a half hour wait on the phone.
Where should I start????

Thursday, June 3, 2010

My father's eulogy

I have sometimes heard a person’s life described as a tapestry, but if this were truly accurate, that life would be of a piece and whole, an intricately embroidered fabric whose threads all formed a single image or pattern. But life is far less neat and predictable than this. There are many loose ends, false starts, and most lives would most certainly not resolve into a neat single pattern. This is the case, most especially, of my father, Mish Kellman, a complicated man who, while he was gentle and kind, full of life and compassion, was nonetheless another whole person for long periods of his life, violent and contradictory, morbid and preoccupied with death.
Part of this may be chalked up to his neurology, for my father was bipolar, and had Tourettes and OCD. Lifetime movies aside, mental illness is truly not romantic or interesting. It is boring and tedious, difficult to deal with, and wrecks havoc not only on the life of the person with the illness, but on his whole family. That is most certainly the case of my father as well.
But that said, I can say that my father had a life worthy of a novel, though one that might be accused of taxing the reader’s credibility. He was born in 1916, a week or so after his father, 40 years old, had died of a heart attack in the middle of the street while at work in the family’s trucking business. I know little of those people and the early years of his life, except that his father’s family, comparatively wealthy, disowned my grandmother and her children, going so far as to change their name (removing one of the “ls” from the name Kellman for good measure). But these are family fables, received third hand. I am not really sure of their exact truth, just as I am uncertain of my grandmother’s real given name, or her family history.
What I know for sure about my father begins with what he was able to remember himself, how, as a schoolboy in an unforgiving Philadelphia school system, he was punished for his inability to remain still and the terrible shooting pains behind his knees. Sometimes, he told me, when his legs would press against the hard wood of the chair, he would cry out, and be thrown out of the classroom, finally expelled as incorrigible. His Tourettes and multiple other neurological disorders were frequently misunderstood, and he ended up in a hospital because of his tics, which were mistaken for some sort of communicative disease. He told me no one came to visit him for two months in the hospital.
At home, my grandmother took in sewing, but it wasn’t enough to bring in food for the children, so my father, small and slight, squeezed under the pushcarts parked along the street to steal fruits and vegetables for the family’s dinner. He and the other urchins of that hungry time would gather coal from the passing trains to heat the house.
Prone to attacks of rage that made him difficult to be around, my father still nonetheless managed to be kind and generous much of the time, funny and imaginative, smart, though not formally educated. He was intellectually curious, fiercely concerned about justice, and most of the time, one who loved life above all things.
I remember one incident from my childhood that illustrates this. The children of my neighborhood loved my father, but were also afraid of him. One never really knew who would answer the door—the bipolar monster who would lash out violently for no reason, or the kind, funny man who played like a child. One day, my dad, an electrician, told me to assemble the children on the block for a treat. A long line of impatient kids stretched out the door and down the cellar stairs, where my dad stood, electrocuting hotdogs. He had rigged up a device, attached to the light fixture, impaling hotdogs on sterilized nails.
They would hiss explosively, then burst open in a sizzling spurt. We used up three packs of hotdogs that day, and as many buns.
As a young adult, my father left home early and joined the Airforce, where he learned to pilot planes. Because of his volatile temper, he never formally became a pilot, but he was a flight mechanic, and ended up as part of a crew that flew 30 or more missions over Germany in WWII.
After the war, he went to Israel, smuggling guns into the country, along with his brothers, and helped to found one of the first kibbutzim, a communal farm devoted to a strictly socialist ethic. There he met my mother, who had come from South Africa with her sisters, and married her in a ceremony that joined a number of couples at once.
Despite his devotion to the idea of the nascent state of Israel, he was dubious about the kibbutz system, which relegated him to picking bananas, while the schoolteacher attempted to take care of the electrical system. Everything had to be strictly equal; it would have been viewed as elitism to allow the electrician to care for the electrical system, the teacher to run the schools. He had choice words to say about this that would get him expelled from the kibbutz, as he had been from so many other institutions. It was just as well: he had tried to learn Hebrew, but was never able to, despite his efforts, so he returned home to Philadelphia with my mother.
Because of his bluntness and uncontrollable temper, much of his life was very difficult and unhappy. He sometimes lost his jobs because he would speak out or act inappropriately. He was violent and often depressed and morbid, a difficult husband and father despite his love for us. But during the good times, he would wake me at 5 to take the dog for a walk and point out the colors of the morning sky, nourish in me an appetite for stories and books, teach me to be kind and compassionate.
At 89, the second phase of his life began when he had a stroke. Things had deteriorated in the house in Philadelphia. Despite my pleas, he had allowed my mother’s hoarding and dementia to overwhelm them both. I could not get him to have the house cleaned out and sold. He was convinced he could not afford to come to California to start a new life, though he had thousands buried in the house, amid bags of trash, and had invested wisely in stocks over the years, something I did not learn until I took up the reins of his finances.
After the stroke, when I was able to assume control of my parents’ affairs, I had my father assessed by a psychiatrist, who was able to come up with a cocktail that made life livable for my father for the first time. I sold the house before the market crashed, and made use the money my father had saved to make them a better life, the kind he had always dreamed of, in California.
My dad responded to this by blossoming. Belatedly, with the care of doctors and the wonderful caretakers who tended to him, he became the kind person he always was, deep down; he was able to nurture a love for gardening, Sudoku puzzles, good food, and most of all, conversation. This was the man most of you knew, if you met him at all, one who started each morning with phone calls to his brother and to me, announcing, whatever the circumstances, “It’s a beautiful day!” I will miss him and feel privileged to have been his daughter.

The Aftermath

Dealing with my father's death is not easy. It isn't just the sadness that sneaks up on me at odd moments and the feeling as if I'm in an elevator with the pit of my stomach sinking, but the sheer bullshit one has to deal with just to inform the world that someone has passed. I am overwhelmed by the mass of numbers I must call, minutes I must remain on hold, copies I must make, fees I must pay, etc. That seems far worse than death, somehow, unrelenting.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


My dad's eyes were open when I came to the board and care this morning. They were already fixed though, and so I got down where I thought he might be able to see me and told him it was okay just to let go, that I was there, and that we would take care of mom. I told him I love him, and that I would miss him. Shortly thereafter, a few breaths, he shuddered, and he was gone. It was very quiet. There was none of the awful stuff some people had told me about at the end. He wanted to say something, but he couldn't, yet I could see that I had put his mind at ease, and that's what I wanted.
Now I am trying to talk the cemetary (El Toro Memorial Park) into burying him on Sunday. Jewish burials don't happen on Saturdays, and that would be the soonest he could be ready. We don't embalm or cremate either, and my dad specifically asked for a Jewish burial. I might just have my mom cremated when the time comes because it is so much easier. You don't have to worry about when it will happen.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June 1

Today the day came that I have dreaded for a long time. I was in yoga class and thought I heard my phone ring. I don't answer during class, but afterwards, I picked it up when it rang, and found it was the social worker from hospice, and that there were other calls there as well. My dad was dying, the social worker said... not my mom, as I expected. After I left yesterday, he fell asleep, in some pain because of the bladder infection, and apparently, his Congestive Heart Failure just flared up, filling his chest with liquid. By the time I arrived, at about 11:15, his mouth was open; he was unconscious, and raspy, rattly breathing was coming from his throat, very laboriously. He was somewhat cold to the touch, and very pale. I watched him for hours, occasionally holding his hand and speaking to him, but mostly just sitting there.
My mother was very anxious, throwing her legs around, and said my dad was calling to her. But today she was more alert than usual, and ate more, even some potato salad I left the day before by mistake, so I will leave it there, hoping she will eat it. There is chicken salad too, and maybe she will eat it.
The doctor refused to sign the papers for hospice, despite the fact that she is the one who told me to take mom out of the nursing home and put her on hospice because she wasn't eating. The caregiver called her up and yelled at her, and finally she gave in. The nurses came in the afternoon, and gave my mother morphine because they said she was uncomfortable.
I spent all afternoon going to the Omega Society arranging burials and learning more about that whole process. What a horrible business!
If dad dies tonight, I must get up and go there to give them a check because they wouldn't take it today, before the fact.
Kurt called from school, and said I could take two more days off. I hope it is all over by then. I have my doubts.

The House

One thing that is better is the house. Over the weekend, as promised, R put together that bookcase he gave me. I took all the books and papers up off the floor. Amazing how much bigger the room seems now! The empty room also is beginning to look inhabited. R put Jeremy's pots and bowls (the ceramics he made in high school) up on the shelves, where there are no books yet, and it looks lovely. If I knew where the cable was, I would take a picture.
Next a wooden filing cabinet, DVD shelves, and maybe a nice chair. Eventually I would like to move it all into a different place, one that belongs to us. But for the moment, this helps.